Penn Station isn't the only place in west Midtown witnessing a flurry of activity. Consider the People's Improv Theater, just a few blocks south. This upstart has risen very quickly to rival the Upright Citizens Brigade as a major source of edgy sketch comedy. Take, for example, Dances With Wolfshirts, the fifth show from sketch group A Week of Kindness. Week consists of the well-oiled team of Dan Hopper, Nate Kushner, and Mike Still, performing live and in several previously filmed skits as they mock consumerism, a subject ripe for teasing.
In fact, the group itself bills the show as a "multimedia blend of high-energy, high-wit live performance and innovative, often demented short films" exploring "the lifecycle of trends, immersing the audience in a world of soup addicts, frivolous surgery, and, of course, lots of awesome T-shirts with huge wolves on them." (They do all this with a little help from some friends and fellow comedians, such as Chris O'Connor and Becky Yamamoto.) The source of the show's title is a made-up trend—shirts featuring the faces of wolves—that the trio pretends is the latest fad.
The humor, as anyone knows who has seen them perform, is quite irreverent. For instance, there's the aforementioned soup sketch, played as though it were an afterthought that became a sketch in itself. The subject is one sketch member's addiction to soup and his attempts to wean himself off it. Like the Seinfeld cast, Hopper, Kushner, and Still know how to carry off a scene, turning nothing into something.
Their timing is also impeccable. They can pace a scene so that they take the joke out just far enough, without it dying on them and the audience. (Hopper, in particular, offers some priceless double takes and line readings.) Given that the sketches are written and rehearsed in advance, the show is quite well paced; it's a shame they couldn't have added another 10 or 15 minutes' worth of material.
One funny scene has a member of the group bringing home a girlfriend to meet his father. The girlfriend turns out to be Helen Keller, who, disabilities aside, is quite the chatterbox, inviting "herself" to feast on a rather disgusting glazed doughnut. Another highlight finds the members of Kindness and some additional cast members in a video sending up the montage in the film Magnolia where the characters sing Aimee Mann's song "Wise Up." Each of the three performers has an amazing presence, with the perfect combination of disciplined rehearsal and agility on one's feet.
The jokes in Wolfshirts meander; they are not predictable and do not follow any standard setup. Occasionally, there isn't even a punch line; the scene just goes black, and then the audience laughs. It takes a few seconds for the sketch's humor to register, but when it does, the audience laughs. And oh, how they laugh.
Wolfshirts plays at the People's Improv Theater on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. through the end of August.